Our history

A brief history of UWE Bristol, including a timeline and the meaning behind our coat of arms.

Although UWE Bristol is a modern university, its educational roots date back to the 16th Century.

We have a history built on partnerships and collaborations dating back to 1595. Over the years, UWE Bristol has continued this tradition in order to grow and transform itself to meet the demands of modern day students and higher education teaching.

UWE Bristol timeline

From a 1595 merchant navigation school to the present day, discover the long and interesting history of our institution.

In the beginning

  • 1595 - Bristol Society of Merchant Venturers' Navigation School is founded.
  • 1853 - Establishment of the Bristol School of Practical Art, which became part of the Royal West of England Academy when it was granted its royal charter by Edward VII.
  • 1894 - Bristol Society of Merchant Venturers' Navigation School becomes Merchant Venturers' Technical College, which occupied premises in Unity Street, Bristol. The College provided the nucleus for Bristol Polytechnic (UWE).
  • 1949 - Transferred to the Bristol City Education Authority. The College was then divided into the Bristol College of Commerce (Unity Street) and the Bristol College of Technology (Ashley Down).


  • 1960 - The College of Technology was divided into two, the Bristol College of Science and Technology, and the Bristol Technical College. In 1965, the Bristol College of Science and Technology gained university status and moved to Bath.
  • 1969 - Bristol Polytechnic sites at Unity Street, Bower Ashton (West of England College of Art) and Ashley Down open.


  • 1970 - Plans to develop the Coldharbour Lane (Frenchay) site are revealed. The Bristol Technical College is further divided into Brunel Technical College (lower-level courses) and Bristol Polytechnic (higher-level courses). The former West of England College of Art is also incorporated within the Polytechnic.
  • 1974 - Responsibility for the Polytechnic passed to the newly-formed Avon County Council. Ashley Village student accommodation opens on Frenchay Campus.
  • 1975 - Frenchay Campus officially opens.
  • 1976 - Redland College and St Matthias College merge with Bristol Polytechnic to form six major locations, at Ashley Down, Bower Ashton, Frenchay, Redland, St Matthias and Unity Street.
  • 1977 - Students' Union, Student Services and NatWest bank buildings open at Frenchay.
  • 1978 - St Matthias Campus becomes part of Bristol Polytechnic.


  • 1989 - The Education Reform Act 1988 removed polytechnics from local authority control, reconstituting the Polytechnic as a Higher Education Corporation controlled by an independent Board of Governors.


  • 1991 - Q Block opens at Frenchay Campus (the then Faculty of the Built Environment move in from Ashley Down, Unity Street and St Matthias).
  • 1992 - Bristol Polytechnic gains university status, becoming the University of the West of England (UWE).
  • 1996 - Bath and Swindon Colleges of Health, and Avon and Gloucester College of Health open at Glenside Campus. Bolland Library is extended.
  • 1997 - Hartpury College becomes an Associate Faculty.

2000 and beyond

Remembering St Matthias Campus

St Matthias Campus closed its doors in June 2014. Staff and students, past and present, reminisce on their time at one of the University's much-loved campuses as part of the St Matthias history project.

Glenside museum

Find out more about the Glenside Hospital Museum, which currently houses students on Health and Social Care courses and has medical roots dating back to 1857.

UWE Bristol's coat of arms

The University of the West of England, Bristol, has its roots in a number of colleges, which reflect a lively local tradition of vocational education dating back as far as 1595. Our coat of arms was designed to represent, and to celebrate, that many-stranded past.

Find out more
UWE Bristol coat of arms

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